June 05, 2008

Christians vs. uncontacted tribes

These Christians seem to get it...

Evangelizing uncontacted tribesActress Julie Christie is helping Survival International promote an isolation policy toward tribal groups. Survival claims tribal lands should be protected from logging and from outsiders who could introduce foreign sicknesses to the natives. (An unfamiliar virus such as a flu bug can overpower and kill a significant portion of a tribe’s population.)

Last March, representatives of the British television company Cicada Films were accused of unwittingly introducing an epidemic that left four Matsigenka Indians dead while the filmmakers scouted locations for the Discovery Channel’s “World’s Lost Tribes” reality show. Cicada Films denies causing any such outbreak. Brazilian activist Sydney Possuelo, featured in a 2003 National Geographic story, once favored modern contact with tribes but changed his mind after seeing the sicknesses and cultural challenges indigenous people face as a result.
But they don't really:New Tribes Mission seeks to establish indigenous churches around the globe, but Venezuela stopped the group’s work among indigenous groups in 2005, when, as WORLD reported, President Hugo Chavez denounced the agency in a speech and accused it of spying for the U.S. and exploiting indigenous people. (Hundreds of indigenous Venezuelans later marched in protest of Chavez’s speech.)

It’s hard to understand how providing medical care and literacy is exploitation, especially among indigenous groups where the life expectancy of men and women is lower than average and suicide rates among youth are alarmingly high, but New Tribes and other mission organizations may face increasing opposition as governments like Venezuela’s and Brazil’s restrict outside access to tribes. In the process, those governments seem to be promoting the ideology of the “noble savage” and assuming it’s in the best interests of indigenous people to have no access to the modern world, or to the gospel.
Comment:  Indians have seen through self-serving arguments like this one for centuries. For instance:We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us? Why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly?

Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the book?

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all. But He has made a great difference between His white and red children. He has given us a different complexion and different customs. Since He has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that He has given us a different religion, according to our understanding?

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Chief Red Jacket (Seneca), 1805
For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs.

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